Sponsored by: Ciena
Network automation is an imperative if operators are to deliver services with sustainable levels of agility and profitability. Automation enables the network to adapt to events and demands rapidly and efficiently, and supports a new speed of digital business. However, operators cannot buy all the automation they need off-the shelf:
they need to build and/or customize it for their own purposes and environments. This means overcoming cultural, organizational and technical barriers, bridging the separate and often antagonistic roles IT and network departments play today in managing the physical network.
Network virtualization and its emphasis on automation has started to break down technical barriers as IT and network organizations increasingly need to work in each other’s domains. Network organisations are investigating software-defined networking (SDN) as a means of automating key manual interactions with network elements, and IT organizations are being asked to support network functions directly with data center/cloud components and associated automation. It is clearly desirable for the two departments to start sharing tools, knowledge, best practices, cloud-native software development and operations (DevOps) approaches as their roles converge. Operators that encourage this cross-domain fertilization accelerate the cultural change necessary to build an automated and adaptive network.
This paper assesses the value of a cloud-native platform for operational automation, which can be shared by IT and networking organizations. A common automation platform, with shared tools and capabilities, is a practical means of encouraging everyone to ‘speak the same language’ and share knowledge. Common tools help blur the boundaries between separate teams and accelerate the cultural change necessary to enable digital operations.
The TM Forum has defined the requirements for such a platform, pointing out that it should have five key attributes. The platform should:
- be data-centric, with a shared data layer populated directly from the network as the authoritative source of truth
- conform to cloud native principles, with platform functionality embedded in microservices and exposed through open APIs, supporting rapid enhancement, continuous development and scaling, key benefits of cloud native computing
- enable artificial intelligence-driven, adaptive management of the network, trained on all the telemetry data that it collects and analyses
- drive decisions in real-time to optimize network operations and support a network-as-a-service platform business model whereby network capabilities are exposed through the platform as services for consumption by customers in flexible ways and by partners as elements to which they add further value.
Once the cloud-native platform is in place as the foundation for IT/network organizational collaboration, operators should use it to address simpler automation challenges first and progress to more-complex automation activities as joint IT/network teams build experience and trust together. We recommend five operational automation steps that operators can take, which can be carried out sequentially, in parallel or overlap with one another as the organization’s confidence in automation grows. For example, the network organization can ask for IT help in learning new tools for building resource adapters, APIs and configuration scripts as a starting point, while IT can solicit network engineering support to understand the behaviour of, and requirements for, virtualized network functions (VNFs) as they build lifecycle management automation.
We expect to see growing numbers of operators converge their IT and network organizations around a cloudnative automation platform over the coming years as a critical means of implementing network virtualization and use cases, including 5G use cases. Early adopters of such a collaboration environment are likely to enjoy a significant market advantage as their new speed of digital operations drives additional revenue and customer acquisition.
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